Wisden 2020 a welcome recollection of World Cup and happier times

In a dark moment dominated by mass postponements, mothballed kit and furloughed players, this year’s Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack lands as a joyous celebration of a happier time.

The 2020 edition of the famous chronicle, now 157 not out and still going strong, is infused with magical memories from a golden year in English cricket, made all the more precious by the current absence of sport from the schedules.

Quite what the 2021 version has in store is anyone’s guess – in the midst of the coronavirus crisis the sound of leather on willow has never seemed a more distant, or even a more trifling, matter – but lockdown life at least affords ample opportunity to scour 1,536 pages of better days.

Chief among them, of course, was the nerve-shredding World Cup final at Lord’s. The events that took place at the home of cricket on July 14 hit an unimaginable fever pitch at the time and seem no less incredible when relived on the printed page.

Wisden 2020
Wisden 2020

Editor Lawrence Booth duly treats the achievement – the first such success for England’s men after 11 unsuccessful attempts and 44 years of trying – with due reverence and casts it as cricket’s defining moment of the previous 12 months.

It all begins with the cover photograph, Jos Buttler clattering the stumps to settle one of the tightest finales in all of team sport, but the tale is told in loving detail throughout.

In his editor’s notes Booth grasps for context and sees no limit. The deciding passage of play is “the most tumultuous few seconds in the history of English cricket”, metaphorically (and momentarily) speaking “St John’s Wood was the centre of the universe” and the sight of England’s players exploding in ecstasy while their Kiwi counterparts crumbled at the knees conjures talk of the Bayeux Tapestry.

While the world’s current circumstances threaten to cast a hyperbolic light on such pronouncements, it would be hard to find a dissenting voice among the cricket community. As a slice of theatre it was essentially perfect, even if Wisden rightly classifies the technocratic ‘boundary countback’ method which settled the matter “as random as tossing a coin, minus the tension”.

At its centre, of course, was Ben Stokes, a classically rendered hero of the hour complete with a niftily penned redemption arc. For that, and for his majestic, match-winning innings in Headingley’s Ashes Test six weeks later, he earns Wisden’s acclaim as the leading cricketer in the world. Stokes is the first Englishman to take the title since Andrew Flintoff in 2005 and the first person not called Virat Kohli since 2015.

To no great surprise, Stokes is everywhere. It is his frenzied celebration in front of the Western Terrace that forms the basis of Gareth Copley’s Wisden-MCC cricket photograph of the year, and his account that closes a fascinating oral history of the World Cup super over.

“Without him this almanack might have been another English hard luck story,” notes Booth. “Instead it’s a celebration.”

But he is one of 11 world champions, and the other 10 are also given the platform to recall the unprecedented 12-ball shootout which closed the curtain on four years of planning. Spending a minute on each individual is a novel idea and a well-executed treat.

Ben Stokes was England's 2020 hero
Ben Stokes was England’s 2020 hero (Nick Potts/PA)

Away from the World Cup/Ashes axis, and in addition to the meticulously compiled reports, records and statistical appendices, there are a number of essays to warrant particular attention.

The late, great Bob Willis is afforded a moving tribute by his friend and former team-mate Paul Allott, and one-day captain Eoin Morgan eloquently expands his views on the importance of his team’s multi-culturalism. As ever, Wisden has its eye on the bigger picture and there are further discussions of race, gender and climate within.

Last year’s offering gave a witheringly sceptical assessment of The Hundred, but there is space here for Nick Hoult’s even-handed exploration of its journey from powerpoint presentation to part of the furniture. The only detail missing is one that could hardly have been predicted – the fact it may not even take place this year due to the ongoing public health crisis.

The words coronavirus and Covid-19 are refreshingly absent from Wisden 2020, which instead offers a chance to bask in the good old days that have only just gone.

:: The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2020 is published on Thursday, April 9.

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